Jacqueline Garcia’s grandfather was the sole breadwinner for the family of four. Her parents were not in the picture. But her younger brother, her disabled grandmother, and Jackie were a tight-knit family and all depended on the grandfather.
At 16, Jackie, a U.S. citizen, is an honor student in her Phoenix high school and dreams of meeting Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She studies hard, knowing how much her family gave up to give her a better chance to make it. She aspires to one day be a Supreme Court justice herself.
After long days of working as a landscaper, Jackie’s grandfather would sit on the couch with her and ask about school and homework. “You don’t need to struggle like your parents and I,” Jackie remembers him saying. “You can do whatever you want. All you need is determination and commitment.”
Thousands of children across the country, U.S. citizens and not, live paralyzed in fear of losing a parent to deportation, like Jackie did.
Ask any local immigrant rights organization, and you’ll hear the heartbreaking stories of kids left waiting in school, waiting for parents who will never pick them up again. Or parents never returning home after running an errand, or going to work, because they were swept up under our nation’s broken immigration system – a system that works daily to split families apart.
With Congressional Republicans, now seemingly led by Sen. Cruz, dragging their feet on immigration reform, these kids get the daylights scared out of them over and over again. Jackie is afraid of losing her sick grandmother. Thousands of kids across the country have that same paralyzing fear that their parents won’t be there once they get home.
Frightened and ignored by the Republican apparatus, these families have organized massive rallies across the country and grown in their sophistication seeking the support of their members of Congress, in what has become the fight of a lifetime for immigrant communities seeking to ease the fear of family separation and pushing for comprehensive immigration reform with a strong path to earned citizenship.
Over in Washington, D.C., families like Jackie’s were represented when a group of activists interrupted Cruz’s remarks during an address to conservative voters on Friday. They asked him to support immigration reform and ease the families’ fear of being separated.
But Cruz, perhaps in the confusion of the moment, wrote them off as “President Obama’s paid political operatives,” saying conservatives are scaring “the living daylights out of them.”
As it happens, those demonstrators were not in any way related to Obama’s political apparatus. The Obama administration, having deported almost two million fathers, mothers, grandparents and workers like Jackie’s grandfather, is far from an immigrant’s advocate in Washington.
But Cruz was right about one thing.
There is fear. A lot of fear.
The day Jackie’s grandfather was taken away, she was at school. She remembers being petrified with fear as her aunt picked her up with news that would change her life forever.
Without any time for grief, questions about survival flashed through her mind. She was just 15 at the time and, absent her grandfather, and her grandmother sick, Jackie was about to undergo a lot more fear and growing up than her short life had prepared her for.
Today, a year and a half since her grandfather was taken away, the odds are still against her. She has worked as a secretary, a community organizer, and at fast food restaurants, while going to school and caring for her little brother and grandmother. She talks to her grandfather over the phone when she’s not working or studying.
Even so, Jackie is holding strong. Where she was once terrified, she now speaks with determination about her next steps, resolute as ever to make it.
She still dreams of becoming a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, or engaging in public service to help others have a better life than her.
Even while she’s brushed away ever so dismissively by Cruz and Republicans, she figures her fortunes will change with time and hard work.
And just maybe, if they continue on this path, Republicans’ fortunes will change as well.
Matos is director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change.